Category Archives: NHLPA

A Look At The NHL’s Push To Mandate Players To Wear Visors

By:  Christian Deme, Ruling Sports Intern (Twitter:  @TheSportingBiz)

Only a few months removed from the signing of a new collective bargaining agreement, the National Hockey League is considering making some significant changes to the game to protect players from injury.

The two main changes being considered are the mandating of visors on player helmets, as well as implementing a hybrid icing in lieu of the standard icing currently used in the NHL.  On June 19, the NHL’s general managers endorsed mandatory visors for new players entering the league, as well as the implementation of hybrid icing.

Both changes considered are a result of injuries that players have suffered, in order to protect players from future injuries. New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, who was not wearing a visor, took a vicious puck to the face on March 5 and suffered a serious and permanent eye injury.  Currently, approximately 74 percent of NHL players wear visors on their helmets.

Hybrid icing differs from standard icing in that it is the mixture of touch and no-touch icing. Touch icing occurs in hockey when a player clears the puck across both the center red line and the opposing goal line with the puck remaining untouched. When icing is called, a linesman blows the play dead and a faceoff occurs in the defending zone of the team that cleared the puck. If the team that shoots the puck across the two red lines reaches the puck before the other team, icing is waved off. Therefore, since there is an incentive to stop icing and prevent having to take a faceoff in front of your own goalie, players race for these cleared pucks, often crashing violently into the boards and potentially suffering serious injuries. With hybrid icing, the linesman has the discretion to blow his whistle if he believes that the defending player will reach the puck first, without requiring the player to actually touch the puck. Additionally, in the event that the race for the puck is a tie, the linesman is to side with the defending player and blow the play dead to prevent the players from crashing into the boards.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement  of the NHL serves as the central labor agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA. Although the NHL CBA does not specifically address Official Player Rules such as visors and hybrid icing, the CBA, in Article 22, discusses the procedure for amendments to the Playing Rules.

The NHL and NHLPA establish a Competition Committee for the purpose of examining and making changes to the rules of the game.  The issues considered by the Committee are (1) development, change, and enforcement of the Playing Rules, (2) player equipment regulations and standards, (3) dressing room and facility standards, and (4) scheduling.

The Competition Committee consists of up to ten members, including five active players designated by the NHLPA, and five team officials designated by the NHL.

The Committee requires a two-thirds majority for submission for consideration of the NHL general managers. Upon the requisite support from the general managers, the recommendation will be forwarded to the NHL Board of Governors for final approval, which is the current stage of the implementation of mandatory visors and hybrid icing.

The debate over visors and hybrid icing has been an ongoing one for some time now, and was discussed between the League and the Players’ Association during the lockout when they were negotiating the new collective bargaining agreement.

The Players Association has long opposed the mandatory visor rule until recently, but after recent injuries such as Staal’s the Players Association is beginning to come around.

Mathieu Schneider, special assistant to the executive director of the NHLPA, supports the idea of the rule changes if they successfully protect player safety. The NHLPA has polled players regarding mandatory visors and for the first time a large majority has supported grandfathering in mandatory visors.

At the same time, NHL general managers are very much in favor of making visors mandatory for rookies. Players are investments for a team and it’s in the best interest of the teams to protect the health and safety of their players and prevent long-term injuries. The NHL has been plagued with significant concussion problems affecting some of the biggest stars in the game. Guys like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews, and Chris Pronger have all missed time in recent years due to post-concussion symptoms. Moving forward GMs will want to take the recent momentum from the NHLPA and work to protect their players and their overall product for the long-term.

There will be a recommended testing period for hybrid icing during the 2013-14 NHL Preseason. Schneider has stated that if the hybrid icing has a positive reception by the players, it will be implemented as early as Game 1 of the regular season.

The proposals for visors being grandfathered in and hybrid icing being implemented will now go before the NHL Board of Governors for final approval. If the proposed changes to protect player safety are approved, these immediate changes show that the NHL and the NHLPA are committed to protecting the safety of their players. Helmets were grandfathered into the NHL in 1979 and have become such a normal part of professional hockey that it is difficult to imagine an NHL without them. Visors will very likely have the same player reception going forward.

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The NHLPA’s Next Steps In Ending The NHL Lockout

The calendar turned to January 5 today and NHL fans have yet to see one NHL game this season.  Thanks to NHL owners locking out players, gone already is half of the season, along with the NHL All-Star Game and the Winter Classic.  Throughout the negotiations, carrots have been dangled in front of fans’ eyes, giving them hope that a season may begin in the near future.  The NHL and NHLPA have reportedly been close to reaching a new collective bargaining agreement several times.  However, each time a deal appears to be close, a new issue sprouts and the sides spread further apart.  Given that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has self-imposed a January 11 date for a deal to be finalized in order for the season to be saved, how can the NHLPA work to end the lockout?

January 11 is less than a week away.  Given this, the NHLPA’s strategy at this point is apparent:  disclaiming the union’s interest and beginning the process of filing an antitrust lawsuit.  The NHLPA is in the midst of a 48-hour vote to disclaim the NHLPA’s interest as the players’ union.  This is the second time that such a vote has been taken in this lockout.  The last time the vote was taken, it passed, but the NHLPA’s executive board (namely, Donald Fehr) opted not to disclaim the union’s interest.  That decision was likely the result of Fehr’s assessment that negotiations with the NHL were progressing at the time and moving towards an end of the lockout.

However, since that time, negotiations have arguably stalled and federal mediators have begun meeting with the sides individually.  With less than a week left to salvage an NHL season, it’s likely now that players will not only vote to disclaim the NHLPA’s interest as their union, but that the executive board will in fact move forward with doing so.

If the NHLPA moves this way, it will become a trade association rather than a union for the time being.  Thus, the union will  no longer represent players in collective bargaining with the NHL for a new agreement in an attempt to end the lockout.  Rather, under the disclaimer of interest process, individual players will have the right to file antitrust lawsuits against the NHL in a bid to end the lockout.

Filing an antitrust lawsuit will not quickly end the NHL lockout.  Given the length of time an antitrust lawsuit can take to end a lockout, it is notable that it appears that this is a weapon the NHLPA has waited to pull out until the last minute.  In that regard, the NHLPA should be commended for arguably working to fairly negotiate with the NHL as a union for as long as it could.  On the flip side, though, had the NHLPA filed an antitrust earlier in the lockout, the lockout may have ended earlier.

If the NHLPA disclaims its interest as a union, the antitrust lawsuit filed by players will likely be a class action lawsuit.  The class would be defined as all NHL players, but would have named players–likely your top stars and several rookies–named in the lawsuit.  A judge’s decision in favor of the players or a settlement between the parties on the antitrust lawsuit would end the NHL lockout.  Thereafter, the players would have to vote to re-form the NHLPA as a union.  The NHLPA would then begin negotiating with the NHL the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement.  However, many of the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement would likely be reached during negotiations during the settlement process of the antitrust lawsuit.  As such, one would assume that this process would be relatively quick.

Arguably, at this stage of negotiations, there are more pro’s than con’s to the NHLPA disclaiming its interest as a union and players moving forward with an antitrust lawsuit.  For starters, the NHLPA has likely negotiated for as long as it could with no effect towards ending the lockout.  Facing the loss of an entire season, NHL players need to consider alternative options to save their time on the ice and paychecks.  At this point, filing an antitrust lawsuit would likely be the most efficient way to do this.

This biggest con to moving this route, perhaps, is that antitrust lawsuits are uncertain.  In going this way, the NHL could refuse to negotiate a settlement to the lawsuit.  Thus, a judge would decide the merits of the antitrust lawsuit.  The players would likely file their lawsuit in a forum friendly to employees.  However, they run the risk that a judge would rule that the NHL has not violated any antitrust laws during the course of the lockout.  If this were to happen, the players would arguably put in a corner.  At that point, they would have to reclaim the union’s interest and begin negotiating again with the NHL like they have been since September.  This would arguably uppercut the players in terms of the leverage they would have in negotiations.

One thing is certain:  Over the coming days, NHL fans will see much NHL news.  Unfortunately, none of it will take place on the ice of an NHL arena.

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NHLPA and NHL Labor Negotiation Update

By:  Brandon Mead, Ruling Sports Intern (Email:  bmead1028@gmail.com)

That fateful day in 2004 when Gary Bettman stepped to the podium and announced that he had “no choice but to announce the formal cancellation of play” seems all too recent to hockey fans. The National Hockey League’s Collective Bargaining Agreement had expired on September 16th, 2004 and despite efforts by both the League and the Player’s Association, the entire season was cancelled and the Stanley Cup was not raised for the first time since 1919. 

Many fear Bettman may make that same speech this fall when the current NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on September 15th. To avoid such a calamity, the two sides must first sit down at the negotiating table. As of yet, this has not happened.

Bettman claims that “he expects to begin negotiating with the NHLPA in the next few weeks.” This would put the start date to negotiations in the middle of June, giving the two sides a mere three months to come to a resolution. It has been done before and can be done again. Take for example the recent labor disputes of both the NBA and the NFL. Reports coming out months before the respective CBA’s were set to expire indicated that it would take a miracle to bridge the gap between the two sides.  In the end, the NFL put on a full and successful season and the NBA had to cut less than 20 games off its normal schedule.

As hockey fans, we must hope similar last minute negotiations will salvage the NHL season. The biggest issues to emerge are rather straightforward.

1.     Contract Terms – Teams are creative in how they structure their contracts under the current CBA. A player’s average salary over the life of his current contract is what counts against the team’s salary cap while employing the player. This means that teams can get creative, as they did with Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract in New Jersey, and sign a player for many years past when he will be playing hockey and pay him the league minimum for those last few years. This loophole in the current rules allows teams to pay high profile players “average salaries.” Closing this loophole will allow the hard salary cap to be much more effective.

2.     Olympic Participation – For those of us that watched the Olympic hockey in Vancouver, it was a magical two weeks that we all hope to see again in Socchi, Russia. However, the Olympics occur in the middle of the NHL season and put a three week halt to games. In addition, players get hurt and are unable to play for the teams that allow them to go play for their countries. The players appear eager to face off again in Russia, but may have to sacrifice at the bargaining table to get there.

3.     Officiating – This year the NHL named former player Brendan Shanahan as its head disciplinarian. He is singlehandedly in charge of handing out suspensions to players for illegal hits. Arguments can easily be made for or against most of his decisions. However, the players have issue with consistency. Not only the consistency of Shanahan’s punishments, but the consistency of the on-ice officiating. It became quite clear during the first round of the playoffs, when all the media was talking about was the goons that stopped fighting long enough to play a hockey game, that officiating standards had seriously deteriorated. Players are concerned for their safety and the league is concerned about maintaining the integrity of the game. Finding a happy middle ground between the two will be crucial for a new CBA.

4.     Revenue Splitting – League revenue hovers around $3.1 Billion a year and the players currently take home 57% of that pie. That percentage was similar in both the NBA and the NFL until the recent negotiation in which the owners brought those numbers down significantly. The owners will attempt to use those negotiations as templates for success in the NHL. However, players understand the lucrative ten year contract the NHL just signed with NBC and will want to make sure they are compensated for a great increase in revenues.

These are obviously just a few issues that will emerge during negotiations this summer, but these will have some of the greatest impact on whether or not we can spend our winter watching the “Coolest Game on Earth.” Stay tuned for more updates.

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